”SÅ SNYGGT SOM MÖJLIGT UTAN ATT DET SYNS ATT MAN HAR FÖRSÖKT” En kvalitativ studie om unga vuxnas upplevelser av självpresentation på dejtingappar
Executive summary People publicly announcing their search for love is hardly a new phenomenon. Contact ads have existed in newspapers since the 17th century and the concept is still current, albeit now in the re mediated form of dating apps. In 2021, every seventh Swedish person in a relationship had found their partner through app- or online dating, with Tinder being the most popular one. Dating apps and other social media, characterized by an asynchronous and mediated form of self-presentation in online profiles, have come to shape what we want to call our “profile society”, where the apps’ design and functions condition how we can present ourselves to others. At the same time, with social media being based on staying in touch with people we know offline, our view on anonymity online has changed. This in turn has influenced how we present ourselves online; the more we are bound to our offline selves, the more inclined we are to presenting ourselves in accordance with our authentic selves rather than our idealized selves. On dating apps, however, the premise is different from other social media for different reasons. One reason is that the audience is unknown and the users are isolated from an open feed. Another is that the purpose of app dating is for the match online to lead to a meeting offline, making the aim of the dating profile to come across as attractive enough to increase the chances of this happening. In this study we have examined young adults’ experiences of their own and others’ self-presentation on dating apps. We have focused on examining what different choices of the various components in the profile signal, as well as how different factors are experienced to influence the self-presentation. The first research question aimed to understand how dating app users reason about different choices (mainly in terms of pictures, text and functions, e.g. interest- and lifestyle markers) in their own and others’ self-presentation, as well as what they experience these choices to signal. The second research question aimed to understand how dating app users experience their own and others’ self-presentation to be influenced by the motive behind using the app, the apps’ design and the goal of meeting offline. The study was conducted through three semi-structured focus group interviews, consisting of a total of twelve male and female active dating app users aged between 22 and 30. After being recorded and transcribed, the interviews were analyzed and presented using thematic analysis. The results were analyzed through Goffman’s (1959) theory of impression management, Leary and Kowalski’s (1990) theory of impression motivation and impression construction as well as through the concept of definition of “the situation” and previous research on the subject of self-presentation on dating apps. The results show that dating app users experience that the choices they and others make in their self presentation should aim to mediate an overall picture of the person behind the profile. The ideal profile is one that is balanced, both in terms of the content’s quantity and variation. Their reasoning indicates that the pictures are experienced to be the most important component in a dating profile and that the text can both help and hinder the profile’s overall impression. Functions such as interest- and lifestyle markers were of little or no importance for the self-presentation. Different forms of imbalance in the profiles send different signals, both in terms of the motives, authenticity and personality of the person behind the profile. A too comprehensive profile, however, almost always sends the signal of being too eager to find a partner. Overall, the users’ reasoning indicate that a successful dating profile should be well thought through in terms of the content’s quantity and variation, but it should not give the impression that the person behind it has spent a lot of time or thought on creating it. The results also show that motives behind using the app shape the self-presentation’s content in terms of its specificity and scope. Differences in motives are not experienced to affect whether or not users present themselves authentically, however, different motives lead to different levels of sensitivity towards (lack of) authenticity. The reasoning is also that the motive should never be explicitly communicated. Results also indicate that the apps’ design is experienced to shape both how users create their own profiles and how they perceive others’. A long and comprehensive profile in an app that offers an open space for self-presentation is perceived as overworked, while a similar profile in an app that controls the user’s way of presenting herself is perceived as reasonable. The goal of meeting offline, finally, is experienced to influence the self-presentation in three specific aspects; presenting oneself realistically, avoiding too comprehensive presentations and to include steppingstones to the dating process’ next steps in the profile texts. Our analysis of the results concludes that dating app users’ way of presenting themselves and assessing others’ self-presentation is influenced both by their motives behind using the app and of how they have defined “the situation”. This indicates that different users will reach different levels of success on dating apps depending on the extent to which they have reached consensus with other users on how self-presentation should look in the social situation that dating apps constitute. In a bigger perspective, this means that people’s success on dating apps is depending on their knowledge regarding the norms within the context of dating apps and their ability to adapt their self-presentation according to them. Another interesting conclusion is that the result indicates that the content and functions in dating profiles that could, or are designed to, strengthen the authenticity in fact fail to do so. The users’ impression of authenticity rather seems to be heightened by other signals that they themselves interpret as signs thereof. This raises the question on how the dating app companies could develop the apps’ functions to generate authenticity in a way that is appreciated and acknowledged by the users.